Cormoran Strike is back in The Silkworm, the second in a mystery series by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, for those who haven’t heard). His successful investigation eight months earlier (in The Cuckoo’s Calling), in which he proved that a celebrity suicide was actually a murder, has resulted in new clientele, an excellent consequence as he has some debts to pay. However, all the cheating husbands and wives are getting old so Strike is intrigued when a meek woman, Leonora Quine, enters his office asking Strike to find her husband. Owen Quine is a writer who has been known to disappear before but she is worried and Strike agrees to help, despite the dubious promise of payment.
Quine was last seen having a fight with his agent and talking to a publisher about going on a retreat. As Strike follows up on the fragmented information from Leonora he learns that Quine has written a scathing novel that lambasts successful writers, publishers and agents, even his wife and mistress. The novel has made the rounds leading to any number of suspects who may have wanted to silence Quine and his manuscript.
Each new person that Strike meets from Quine’s life gets ample time to talk with Strike, allowing the dialogue to flush out the characters. And as this is the publishing world, Strike is constantly meeting for meals, some of which are the best he’s had in years, if ever. It’s an interesting recurrence that reinforces the world he has entered as opposed to just being two people at a table having a meal. Although Strike’s interest in his excellent meal sometimes surpasses his interest in his companion.
Cormoran Strike is an amputee veteran. He navigates the world constantly having to be aware of his prosthetic leg. The investigation sends Strike around London, attempting to save money by using the Tube more often than taxis, and there are detrimental consequences. His frustration and anger toward his limitations feels raw and real. He knows what he could have been able to do if he had both legs.
The one benefit to his prosthetic is the implications on his secretary, Robin. She appeared in the first book as a temp who decided to stay on permanently. We learn more about her – she is engaged to Matthew who is threatened by Strike, she dropped out of college, she took an advanced driving course during a bad time in her life. (The car scene – you’ll know it when you get to it – was superb because we learn so much about both Robin and Strike in a matter of paragraphs.) Also, she desperately wants to become an investigator like Strike. The tension between Strike and Robin ebbs and flows and I hope it gets stronger in future installments. Robin is the only other character we get to follow and she adds dimension to Strike’s work and life and the case at hand.
The Silkworm also provides additional information about Strike’s personal life and history from the first book in the series. Family and friends are introduced. His ex-girlfriend appears in her own stressful fashion. These extra characters are used in a myriad of ways. Some add to the plot by providing information whether on purpose or inadvertently. Others hold back the curtain to Strike’s past and emotions, which makes him a more complex character. This book is a great example on how to use ancillary characters effectively.
The one part that stood out awkwardly was the moment when Strike has a plan to nail the bad guy and you know he has a plan but you don’t know the plan. It happens in most mysteries and I suppose it’s better than other mystery novels where the protagonist solves the crime using information the reader didn’t have and with action happening that isn’t described or even alluded to. (I’m thinking of some of the Poirot novels.) We are told that Strike tells Robin his plan and she agrees. We get some allusions to who is helping him but we don’t know how. Once I got over that hump, I returned to the thrum of the novel and was very satisfied when the culprit was apprehended. The dots that Strike connects were identifiable from earlier in the novel. There’s nothing worse than having to flip back and wonder if you had been told about a certain detail and missed it or if it had never appeared at all. In this case, the details Strike connects were glaring aspects of the story that were disconnected without his mind and instincts.
This writing is some of Rowling’s finest work. Possibly it’s the freedom she found under the pseudonym in the first book. Maybe it’s the genre. Whatever the reason, The Silkworm is tightly written, riveting and keep the pages turning. Highly recommended.